WASHINGTON — The frontrunners in the Republican primary are also the two candidates with the most endorsements by Catholic pro-life leaders. Sen. John McCain of Arizona (see story, page 7) has been endorsed by a group of Catholic lawmakers. Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney has been endorsed by a University founder, a pro-life leader and a former ambassador to the Holy See.

Democratic candidates have not gained pro-life endorsements due to their adamant support for abortion and government funding for abortions.

The endorsements are important heading into Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, when 24 states will hold contests and more race delegates will be chosen than on any other one day in the primary season.

One of the most notable Catholic endorsements was that of Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who ended his own presidential campaign in October and endorsed that of fellow Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

“It was a tough call, and I spent quite a bit of time thinking and praying about it,” Brownback said in an interview with the Register. “It just came out to me that he is the full candidate, he has got strong credentials, and is ready to lead.”

After giving a speech to attendees of the March for Life in Washington Jan. 22, Brownback read aloud parts of a letter from McCain to the pro-life community.

“If I am fortunate enough to be elected as the next president of the United States, I pledge to you to be a loyal and unswerving friend of the Right to Life Movement,” McCain’s letter stated.

Some pro-life activists have questioned Brownback’s decision to endorse McCain, citing his support for federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

Brownback admitted that he was “concerned” about McCain’s position.

“I talked with him a lot about the issue and was pushing him on it,” he said, noting that recent scientific breakthroughs in reprogramming skin cells into stem cells should diminish the push for embryo-killing. “I think we are going to win that fight on a scientific basis,” said Brownback, noting that McCain has been making statements about not needing to research embryonic stem cells.

McCain was suffering in the polls when Brownback endorsed him, often coming in fourth place when pitted against his Republican rivals. Recently, McCain’s campaign has gained momentum following election victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“Looking at the whole field, there is not a perfect candidate in it, you have to ask: ‘Who is the one that is both acceptable and electable?’” said Brownback. “I think that John pops to the top.”

Conversely, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, also a Catholic, has openly criticized McCain’s record on social issues, especially as McCain gained momentum. “Not only was he wrong on embryonic stem-cell research, but on a whole host of conservative issues, where he may have voted with us,” Santorum said recently on talk radio. Santorum added that McCain was never one to push social issues in the Senate and never defended them on the Senate floor.

In response to criticism, Brownback said, “I just think that John is the best, fullest package. He is the only candidate left in the field with foreign policy experience, he has a long pro-life voting record, and he’ll give us judges that are strict constructionists.”

Brownback co-chairs the Catholics for McCain Leadership Team together with Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma.

The team includes many other Catholic, pro-life, leaders including Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Ray LaHood, R-Ill., and Dan Lungren, R-Calif.

“I think that McCain is the strongest candidate of our party,” said Lincoln Diaz-Balart, “He has tremendous experience, knowledge, and has demonstrated judgment, courage, willingness to stand by his convictions.”

Catholics for Romney

Several esteemed Catholic citizens have publicly stated their support of Mitt Romney. As Romney campaigned hard to win the support of Michigan voters, Catholic philanthropist Tom Monaghan endorsed his candidacy. Monaghan stated that he believed Romney to be “a man of principle.”

“As someone who values the importance of faith in one’s life, I recognize in Mitt his deep religious convictions that will serve him well in facing the critical moral issues facing our society.” Monaghan stated in his endorsement, “I believe he will stand firm on the pro-life issues and for the traditional family values that our country was founded on and which are so critical to the future of our nation.”

James Bopp Jr., a Catholic lawyer who has defended pro-life and pro-family non-profit groups, also supports the former Massachusetts governor.

“He has the management, organizational and leadership skill to turn his conservative ideas into public policy in Washington,” said Bopp. “It’s really important that I support a candidate that shares my views, but it’s also true that for those ideals to become policy, you need to elect somebody who can get the job done.”

Bopp serves as a general counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech. He volunteered his services to the Romney campaign serving as a special adviser on pro-life issues.

Romney has supported legal abortion in the past, and although some pro-life activists have been skeptical about his “conversion,” Bopp noted that he was impressed with Romney’s commitment to pro-life issues.

Bopp noted that as governor, Romney vetoed funding for the “morning-after” pill, vetoed a bill to change the definition of life, opposed lowering the age of consent for abortions and promoted abstinence education funding.

Bopp also stated that that as a senator, McCain voted to fund embryonic stem-cell research, while Romney, as governor, vetoed a similar measure.

After the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared that state law must allow same-sex “marriage,” Bopp added that Romney, having opposed the decision, worked to limit its impact after the ruling.

“When it happened, he fought it tooth and nail,” Bopp stated, “He moved heaven and earth to restore the definition of marriage, and he enforced a law that prevented people from traveling to Massachusetts to participate in gay ‘marriages.’”

Before she was named as ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon served as co-chairwoman of Romney’s Advisory Committee on the Constitution and the Courts after working with Romney in Massachusetts.

Glendon resigned from her position with the Romney campaign after she was appointed as ambassador to the Vatican. The U.S. Senate confirmed her in that position Dec. 19.

Romney’s camp also gained the endorsement of former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Thomas Melady. He said that he was impressed with Romney’s family, noting that even while serving as an executive, he successfully raised his five sons.

“I like the fact that he has tried to inspire strong family values in our country, Melady said, “It does help if the person speaking on these issues has strong family values and has a strong family himself.”

Rudy Giuliani

Former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and federal Drug Czar under President George H.W. Bush endorsed Rudy Giuliani last August.

“He has a proven record of results as Mayor of New York City,” said Martinez. “America is at a critical juncture and we need real leadership in Washington. Mayor Giuliani’s proven record of accomplishment and his 12 Commitments to the American people will be a roadmap for his Presidency.”

Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has attracted a lot of grassroots support from Catholics, due to his strong record on pro-life issues. His campaign however has not gained many significant Catholic endorsements.

When asked about Huckabee, Brownback admitted that “Huckabee is good on the [pro-life] topic,” but said that, “I don’t think that he can put together the Republican coalition based on his positions on other issues.”

Huckabee has stated on the campaign trail that he has many Catholics who serve in his campaign.

“Catholics were a major source of support for me in Arkansas. And they have been nationally. And it’s not only because of the pro-life and pro-family issues,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Campaign spokeswoman Kirsten Fedewa noted that throughout Huckabee’s years as governor, he maintained close relationships with leaders and members of the Catholic Church in Arkansas, including Bishop Peter Sartain of Joliet, Ill., when he was bishop of Little Rock.

In addition to regular breakfast meetings at diocesan headquarters, the two participated, side by side, in the annual March for Life year after year.

Steve Dillard, author of the blog Catholics Against Rudy, stated that while the group would not endorse a candidate, he personally supported Huckabee.

Dillard was one of many Catholics who dismissed Rudolph Giuliani’s chances as a presidential candidate who could rally religious voters concerned about social issues, due to the pro-choice positions he held as Mayor of New York.

Meanwhile, Norma McCorvey endorsed the candidacy of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, shortly before the March for Life was held in Washington, D.C., Jan. 22. McCorvey is better known as “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade. She converted to Catholicism and is now a pro-life activist.

“After taking all of the presidential candidates into consideration, it is obvious that Ron Paul is the only one that doesn’t just talk the talk,” she stated at a press conference in Washington.

Paul was the only presidential candidate who appeared at the March for Life to address March participants in person.

Right to Life

Pro-life activists enter the Super Tuesday elections Feb. 5 without a candidate to rally around. Although National Right to Life endorsed Republican candidate Fred Thompson, he withdrew from the race after receiving little support in South Carolina.

Members of the organization have stated that they have not decided whether to endorse another candidate in the primaries.

“Our major goal is to do whatever is necessary to ensure that Rudy Giuliani is not nominated,” said Darla St. Martin, co-director of National Right to Life.

Some activists speculate that if Giuliani wins Florida and gains momentum, the organization may choose to endorse another candidate.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, noted that although his organization doesn’t endorse candidates, he has sensed dissatisfaction within the religious community with the current candidates.

“I guess all the candidates can point to some stellar people in religious conservative circles that have supported them, but what really jumps out at us is that there is not a single candidate that most religious conservatives are willing to rally around,” he said. “At least at this point.”

Charlie Spiering is based

in Washington, D.C.